The Brooklyn Nets took a flyer on much-maligned center Jahlil Okafor, a low-risk move that could shore up the Nets’ biggest weakness overnight.
The Brooklyn Nets were desperately thin at center to start the season. Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen were the only two players on the roster taller than 6-foot-8 prior to the Tyler Zeller signing. Zeller has taken the starting role from Mozgov in recent weeks. However, neither of them averages even 20 minutes a game. Allen has an incredibly high ceiling, but he is still only 19 years old. When a player the team signed on September 12 is starting before the end of November, it is desperately thin at that position.
Sean Marks took a big step to remedy that this Thursday, trading Trevor Booker to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and a future second-round pick. While Booker will be sorely missed, his contract expires at the end of this year, and there was no reason to expect him to stay in Brooklyn. Instead of losing him for nothing, Marks took a flyer on the third overall pick from 2015 to pair with fellow 2015 outcast D’Angelo Russell.
Nik Stauskas has barely played this season, but he made 36.8 percent of his threes last year and could thrive in Brooklyn’s three-point heavy offense. The Knicks’ 2019 second-round pick that came over in the deal could be one of the first ten picks of the second round.
However, the crown jewel of this trade is Jahlil Okafor. If Okafor fails to meet expectations, the Nets can move on from him without shedding a tear this offseason. However, Okafor fills the Nets’ biggest positional need and could revive his career with a strong 2018 in Brooklyn.
Offense: For Better AND for worse
Let’s start with the bad news about Okafor. The 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers were an abject disaster. The team won just 10 games that season, and Sam Hinkie was forced out midseason with a combined effort from Adam Silver and the Colangelo cabal. They scored fewer points per game than all but one NBA team and allowed more points than all but one other NBA team.
Somehow, this abysmal team played even worse with Jahlil Okafor on the floor. The Sixers averaged an almost unthinkably bad 92 points per 100 possession with Okafor on the court and a slightly less atrocious 99.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. Furthermore, Okafor cannot shoot from beyond the arc — he has made one three-pointer in his career, and his midrange jumper is nowhere near good enough to stretch past the three-point line.
Here is the good news: given all the flak he gets for his inefficient offense, Okafor is a surprisingly effective scorer. He put up a true shooting percentage of 53.6 percent in his rookie year and 54.6 percent as a sophomore. On the one hand, those numbers are slightly below league average. On the other hand, Okafor was pretty much the only offensive option the Sixers had during his rookie campaign, and Okafor still averaged 17.5 points per game. The team might have been better on offense with Okafor on the bench, but playing with the starting unit meant that Okafor and the teammates on the floor with him faced their opponent’s best defenders. Nerlens Noel, who led the Sixers in starts with 62, finished the year with the fifth-worst offensive rating on the team — exactly one spot ahead of Okafor.